Social Work Officer

Now hiring: we are now accepting applications for this job through Direct Entry and Paid Education.

Job description

Social Work Officers deliver professional social work services in a military setting to support the morale, efficiency and mental health of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and their families. Social Work Officers offer clinical social work services similar to community mental health and social services agencies.

As well as the full range of challenges common to Canadian society, CAF members and their families cope with additional stresses associated with frequent moves and separations. These stresses can give rise to social and family circumstances that involve complex social work interventions.

The primary responsibilities of a Social Work Officer are to:

  • Provide clinical intervention services
  • Assist in the resolution of compassionate situations
  • Consult with and advise leaders on the social circumstances encountered by personnel in their units
  • Investigate and report compassionate situations
  • Deliver preventive and rehabilitative programs in the areas of:
    • Pre- and post-deployment stress
    • Suicide prevention
    • Family violence

Social Work Officer

I’m Lieutenant Commander Mercy Yeboah-Ampadu from Montreal, Quebec, a Social Work Officer based out of Canadian Forces Base Edmonton.

And I’m Lieutenant Navy Lyn Kingsley from Sudbury, Ontario, a Social Work Officer currently posted to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt.

YEBOAH-AMPADU: Social Work Officers serve in a clinical setting, assisting our soldiers, sailors and air men and women and their families as they cope with the extraordinary demands of armed conflict, long separations and overseas deployments, as well as disciplinary, psychosocial and mental health issues.

Part of our role really is to provide counselling services which is really the bulk of our work. It could be workplace stress. It could be problems with a couple. It could be personal issues that they’ve brought with them from their past into this context.

KINGSLEY: So we will do screenings for members and their families prior to a deployment, prior to a posting outside of Canada or even an isolated posting within Canada just to make sure that the entire family unit and the psycho-social circumstances are appropriate for that deployment or posting at that time. As well, when service members return from operational deployment, we’ll be screening them again to make sure that there’s no mental health concerns that are not being treated at that point.

YEBOAH-AMPADU: The soldiers are relying on you to be able to listen in a way that you can be helpful. People aren’t looking to get out of a tour. They’re looking at ways to help them use their strength to get through it.

KINGSLEY: As members of the Canadian Forces Medical Service, we work with a highly-motivated, interdisciplinary team of social workers, psychiatrists, mental health nurses and medical officers to provide specially-focused trauma, mental health and psychosocial care to all our patients.

And we collaborate very well. We share skill-sets and knowledge and can help each other out all of the time and I get the sense that some of my civilian colleagues are much more limited in the resources that they can put together for their clients.

YEBOAH-AMPADU: Canadian soldiers are called to go on challenging missions all over the world. Social Workers witness not only the rewards that come with the accomplishment of these missions, but also the hardship that some of these soldiers may encounter.

For people to know that there’s somebody you can talk to, who isn’t going to be judgmental and who isn’t going to breach their confidentiality, I think it’s a big thing.

If you already have some clinical experience working with adult mental health clients and you have a Bachelor of Social Work or a Masters of Social Work, then becoming a Social Work Officer in the Canadian Forces could be the perfect fit for you.

YEBOAH-AMPADU: If you can get to deploy which many social workers do, it’s great to see the world and see different aspects of the human condition.

KINGSLEY: I don’t think I’m really different from a lot of those people that deploy in terms of when they talk about having been on deployment, while they’re there, they use this term, they’re on the pointy end, the sharp end of things, which really means they’re doing the job that they’ve been trained for and it feels a little bit different. It feels more special, it feels more valuable, more important and I have to admit that I was no different when I was there. Soldiers were in the field one day, they would take a helicopter or a patrol, come back into the base, come to us at the hospital, meet with a social worker and I’m sitting there feeling that very same, sharp, on the edge of what’s really happening, really making a difference.

YEBOAH-AMPADU: It’s about serving soldiers. And when you see someone succeed in managing their situation, in feeling better, in doing better and going on to have such promising, successful careers, the rewards that you get, that you were able to be a part of that – there are no words for it.

KINGSLEY: If you already have your MSW degree and a few years of clinical experience, you can be commissioned. Or if you have your BSW and a few years of experience upon entering, the Forces may be able to fully subsidize your Master’s degree.

In either case, you’ll go through Basic Officer Training at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean, Quebec, like most other Canadian Forces Officers.

YEBOAH-AMPADU: When you complete your Basic Officer Training, you’ll move on to six months to one year of on-the-job training at an Army base, an Air Force wing or with the Navy on the east or west coast.

YEBOAH-AMPADU: Most Social Work Officers begin their military career with a four-year posting attached to a Canadian Forces Base.

You’ll work in close harmony with other members of the mental health team and you’ll maintain close links to civilian social agencies in the area where you’re working.

We’re not here to leave you alone and so it’s a great way for people to be able to share ideas and the expectation is you’re a social worker, so you’re going to bring some ideas, too.

And as early as your first posting, you could be deployed anywhere in the world, at any time, wherever the mission takes you.

KINGSLEY: I’ve been in for several years now and I have to admit, I really enjoy the perks that I have. I get paid quite well for the amount of work that I have. I’m never overwhelmed. Where else would you go where it’s kind of required that you go spend time at the gym during your working hours.

YEBOAH-AMPADU: You know, serving in Afghanistan was probably the most defining moment of my career. It was awesome to give back in that location, in that context, back to the soldiers who are coming in hurting and giving them hope to continue and some strength so that they could believe in themselves and believe in their abilities and complete the mission.

Everyone is affected by a tour. No matter what, you are going to be changed by it. By the experience, by the people that you see and by the things that are happening. Being changed and being different – I’m changed, I’m different – for the better.


Working environment

Social Work Officers work in an office at a base, wing or garrison, and deploy overseas on operational missions. They may be required to collaborate with civilian social agencies to develop appropriate referral contacts and to remain abreast of current professional development and social legislation.

Pay and career development

The starting salary for a fully trained Social Work Officer is $49,000 per year; however, depending on previous experience and training the starting salary may be higher. Regular promotions through the junior officer ranks take place based on the completion of required training and on the length of service as an officer. Once promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (Navy) or Captain, their salary is approximately $79,000 per year.

Social Work Officers who demonstrate the required ability, dedication and potential are selected for opportunities for career progression, promotion and advanced training. As they gain experience and knowledge, Social Work Officers may progress to senior positions that involve supervisory responsibility at Health Care Clinics across the country or at National Defence Headquarters.

Related civilian occupations

  • Social Worker

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Basic military officer qualification

After enrolment, you start basic officer training at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, for 15 weeks. Topics covered include general military knowledge, the principles of leadership, regulations and customs of the CAF, basic weapons handling, and first aid. Opportunities will also be provided to apply such newly acquired military skills in training exercises involving force protection, field training, navigation and leadership. A rigorous physical fitness program is also a vital part of basic training. Basic officer training is provided in English or French and successful completion is a prerequisite for further training.

Following basic officer training, official second language training may be offered to you. Training could take from two to nine months to complete depending on your ability in your second language.

Professional training

Social Work Officers are posted to a base to complete 12 months of on-the-job training, where they expand and broaden clinical social work practice approaches under the supervision of a more senior Social Work Officer.

Specialty training

Social Work Officers may be offered the opportunity to develop specialized skills through formal courses and on-the-job training, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Training
  • Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
  • Emotional Focused Therapy for Couples

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Entry plans

Now hiring: we are now accepting applications for this job through Direct Entry and Paid Education.

Required education

The minimum required education to apply for this position is a Master of Social Work degree from an accredited Canadian Social Work Program, a current unrestricted licence (active status) to practise as a social worker from a provincial or territorial regulatory authority/association and a letter of "good standing" from that authority. You will also require two years of clinical experience within the last five years. The minimum requirements for Social Work Officers are fixed and equivalencies are not accepted.

Direct entry

If you already have a Master of Social Work degree from a recognized Canadian university, are registered with the professional social work association of a Canadian province or territory, and meet the required clinical experience outlined above, the Forces may place you directly into the required on-the-job training program following basic training. Basic Military Officer Qualification training and Second Language Training are required before beginning the on-the-job training program.

Paid education

Subsidized Education for Entry Level Masters

If you have a Bachelor of Social Work degree from a recognized Canadian university, the CAF will pay successful recruits to complete a Master of Social Work program at a Canadian university. They receive a full-time salary including medical and dental care, as well as vacation time with full pay in exchange for working with the CAF for a period of time. If you choose to apply to this program, you must have proof that you have been accepted without condition in an accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) program, having a focus on clinical practice, at a Canadian University.

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